Definition of meme

From: Richard Brodie (
Date: Mon 19 May 2003 - 01:17:20 GMT

  • Next message: Reed Konsler: "Where's meme?"

    As I post here from time to time and as I tried to make clear in VIRUS OF THE MIND, there are many candidates for cultural replicators. Since I was writing the first book on memetics, I used "meme" as Dawkins did in THE EXTENDED PHENOTYPE and Dennett did in his writing to refer to replicators that were pieces of information in the mind. Some people used "meme" casually to refer to any element of culture. I don't suppose the definition matters that much and it's probably too late to put the genie back in the bottle since it is so confused now.

    It's a fresh and original thought worthy of examination to look at performances as replicators. I didn't think of this, mostly because performances don't have much persistence and therefore have limited opportunity to replicate, but there's no reason it couldn't be studied.

    Artifacts can certainly be considered replicators. For example, the existence of the Eiffel Tower probably causes people to create replicas of it and probably would even if the human race were wiped out and Paris repopulated by people with no memory of our history. I don't call these artifacts memes out of respect for Dawkins/Dennett, but there's no reason you couldn't.

    The most interesting replicators to me are the complex ones I labeled mind viruses: religions, chain letters, pyramid schemes and so on. I wouldn't call these memes because they are complex bundles of memories, artifacts, and performances. But they can fruitfully be looked at as replicators nonetheless.

    I don't understand why anyone would say memories can't be memes. The statement doesn't even make sense to me. A definition can't be wrong. At worst, you could say the study of mental replicators is useless. I don't happen to think it is, but then again I'm not a researcher. But this constant diatribe against "memesinthemid" makes no sense to me. Not that I think it's wrong, just that I don't even understand the argument.

    Richard Brodie

    =============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see:

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Mon 19 May 2003 - 01:23:38 GMT